Brown Rice Rolled Sushi 玄米巻き寿司
This is honestly my favorite time of the year. I don’t necessarily like the cold weather (in fact I’m a little bit relieved that we had nothing near a white Christmas here in the Midwest), but basically from Thanksgiving to a week or so after New Year’s Day, I’m cooking and eating and relaxing and celebrating with people I love. So much good food and so much good company. But now that Christmas is over, it’s time for my brain to switch gears from my American heritage to Japanese traditions. In my mind New Years is a Japanese holiday. We prepare for days, and on the day of we sit around and spend time with family and loved ones. The celebration lasts for days. And there’s just something so refreshing and nourishing about how the Japanese feast.
Unfortunately for me, I haven’t spent the holiday in Japan in years, so I’ve had to make it my own kind of experience. We don’t do the super traditional osechi route, but we make a lot of hot pots, soups, noodles, gyoza (potstickers), and sushi. But let’s not kid ourselves here, sushi at my house is a very humble version of what you find in sushi-master restaurants in Japan. This is absolutely for the home cook, nothing fancy. But ohhhhhhh my goodness, so good. And good for you, since my version is made with soaked brown rice and is refined sugar free. It’s adaptable to different tastes and dietary needs (nope, you totally don’t have to use fish, raw or cooked. I make vegetarian sushi all the time, and it’s legit!) And since I don’t frequent a caught-this-morning fish market where I get the first pick of the day, and “sushi-grade” fish isn’t well-regulated here in the U.S., when I do use fish, I always cook it first. Depending on the variety, I’ll either leave it rare to medium-rare.
There are so many fillings you can use, but my go-to’s are always cucumbers, avocado, spicy sprouts (such as radish sprouts), and salmon and/or tuna steaks. But lettuce, julienned carrots, sautéed shiitake, eggs, shrimp, and some herbs like Japanese shiso and even cilantro are fantastic. The important part is the rice. See, there’s a common misconception about sushi. Sushi is actually a really diverse term. It comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes from the classic nigiri-zushi, the iconic sushi with the little block of rice often topped with a piece of raw fish, to maki-zushi, with the classic nori-wrapped slices. You can even make a more rustic te-maki-zushi, where you roll them by hand into a cone shape, which I love to do for parties. The only common denominator to all of this is the rice. Put simply, sushi is rice prepared with a vinegar dressing. But that’s like … bare bones simplified. It’s of course much more than that. And I’m going to tell you my way of making sushi at home with a healthified twist. In the recipe card I refer to “fermenting liquid” as another option to the acidic medium used in soaking. You can find more on that here.
Not too complicated, right? The key is to not overfill. You know, like the first time you made a burrito and tried to roll it and everything squished out? Same concept here. Keep the fillings pretty minimal until you get the hang of it and increase little by little until you reach your perfect amount. Same with the rice! Keep it an even, thin layer of rice or you won’t be able to roll it. And when rolling, keep it nice and tight. Every inch or so, as I peel back the rolling mat, I pull back on the roll to make sure it’s nice and tight. Bagginess is your enemy, trust me.
- 3.75 cups (5 rice cooker cups, if using a rice cooker) brown rice, preferably organic
- 4 cups very warm water, preferably purified and dechlorinated* (for soaking)
- 1/2 cup acidic medium (fresh lemon/lime juice or raw apple cider vinegar) or fermenting liquid
- 1 6x6 inch piece of kombu
- 4 cups water (for cooking)
- 2/3 cup rice vinegar**
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 10 sheets nori seaweed
- Fillings options: ***
- seedless cucumber such as Japanese, Armenian, English, and baby cucumber, cut into thin sticks
- avocado, sliced
- salmon steaks or fillets, generously salted and sautéed
- tuna steaks, generously salted and sautéed
- spicy sprouts, such as radish sprouts
- scrambled egg, or thin sliced egg pancake
- shiso and/or cilantro
- julienne carrots
- In a large bowl, combine the rice, soaking water, and acid or fermenting liquid. Soak overnight, or up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse thoroughly, and set aside.
- Meanwhile, about 2 (in a warm space) to 4 (in a cool space) hours before the rice is finished soaking, add the kombu to the water reserved for cooking, and soak to make the cooking stock. The kombu should increase in size and become pliable. Discard the kombu once the soaking time is complete.
- Rice cooker method
- Add the rice to the bowl of the rice cooker and fill with prepared kombu stock to the 5 cup marking. It should amount to about 4 cups of water, which is significantly less than you would use to cook unsoaked grains due to the water absorbed during soaking. Turn on and cook according to regular brown rice setting on your rice cooker. (I've even used the regular white rice setting in my older model with no problems)
- Stovetop method
- In a large pot, combine soaked rice and prepared kombu stock. Bring to a boil, then drop down to a simmer and cover with a tight fitting lid. Let cook with lid on until the water is absorbed and rice is fluffy, no longer opaque, and has a tender center, about 40 minutes.
- In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, maple syrup, and salt and bring to a gentle simmer until salt is completely dissolved. Set aside to cool.
- Transfer the rice to a large bowl (wood is ideal, but glass or ceramic will work). Sprinkle the prepared vinegar dressing evenly over the rice. Using a flat rice paddle, toss the rice with horizontal cutting strokes. Don't overmix or you'll get mushy rice, but make sure the dressing is evenly distributed. Cover your rice with a damp towel while you prepare your other ingredients.
- Place a piece of nori on the bamboo sushi rolling mat, shiny side down. Place right in a thin, even layer across the nori, leaving a 3/4 inch border along the top and bottom, parallel to the lines of the bamoo mat. Place the filling ingredients in a line in the middle of the rice, parallel to the lines of the bamboo mat. Lift the edge closest to you of both the bamboo mat and the nori sheet and fold over the filling ingredients. While peeling away the bamboo mat, gently push down the top layer of nori and rice and pull back the filling toward you. Keep rolling tightly while peeling away the bamboo mat, using it to pull back occasionally to make sure you are keeping a tight roll. Let rest for a minute to let the nori soften around the rice, then using a sharp knife, slice into 8 pieces, wiping clean between each cut. Repeat with remaining nori sheets, rice, and filling.
- *to dechlorinate and purify water, simply boil for 20 minutes and let cool to room temperature.
- **you can use raw apple cider vinegar or a blend of rice and raw apple cider vinegar, for added nutrition. The flavor will change slightly, but it still works well and is delicious.
- ***These are just some ideas, get creative with your favorite flavors